As this is a large collection of twenty articles on widely divergent topics, I will attempt to give some individual treatment to separate articles. In a collection of articles like this, one should not expect that a few minor issues should hold down the entire volume, especially since so many topics and authors are represented. To start with, this book is well-organized, and covers a wide breadth of topics relating to the central sixth century. Physically, it is an attractive, solid book with good weight to it. There are two fairly substantial sections of plates, the first entirely in colour, primarily showcasing some of the brilliant artwork from this age including the Ravenna mosaics and the Hagia Sophia. The second set of plates is all greyscale, but contains useful images of coins, architecture, and manuscript folios. Sixteen maps (!) are included throughout the text. Cambridge University Press sure knows how to make me happy. Another wonderful feature that I was not expecting is the select list of ancient sources. While it is not complete and the descriptions are typically limited to a small paragraph per source, the brief introduction as well as references to modern translations and major works in English will undoubtedly be useful to students.
The articles themselves are generally very good and informative. Given that there are twenty of them, I am only going to comment on a few. Horden's article on the plague was absolutely exceptional. I will not disagree with the other reviewer Florentius' argument that the article is somewhat of a mess, but having studied enough modern literature on the plague I am convinced that she does far more than an acceptable job in representing the state of scholarship. The evidence is enormously contradictory and hard to work with, and she does a fine job of demonstrating just how difficult it is to assess the plague. I found John Haldon's article on the economy and the administration of the empire to be rather uninspired, but perhaps that is because I've read many of his books that deal extensively with just that topic (most recently, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c.680-850: A History discusses much of what he describes here in much greater detail) but it still remains an invaluable summary. Maas' introduction chapter is actually quite good and helps to set the stage for the entire volume. He discusses the changing nature of the Roman Empire in the east in the sixth century and Justinian's role in fusing Roman, Greek, and Christian civilization into something new, as well as outlining some of the continuities and changes that took place during the Age of Justinian. Croke's article on Constantinople was rather uninspiring. Perhaps the editor felt that it was necessary to have a description of the city where so much of the power politics of the age of Justinian took place and where its namesake figure lived most of his life, but the article is utterly unremarkable and adds little to the discussion. Alchermes' article on the art and architecture of the age is similarly uninspired, but has a few interesting notes on the relation between art and power. Lee's article, 'The Empire at War' is much like Haldon's in that it is a good description of the effectiveness of Justinian's armies and how they were organized. It is nothing new, but the fact that it is a succinct summary will make it useful for students. Pazdernik's article on Justinianic ideology was quite interesting and provides a unique view into imperial propaganda through the use of Roman law. Like Florentius, I share Sotinel's reservation about the article on emperors and popes in the sixth century: why does the arrest of Pope Silverius get so little attention. Other than that, however, I found the article to be rather illuminating, especially given that it is a western view towards an eastern Roman emperor who felt that he had the authority to meddle in religious matters. I actually found myself reading Brubaker's article on gender and society. This is not the sort of article that I would regularly read, but I am sure glad I did. Her assertions and conclusions actually seem rather irrelevant, but the meat of the article discusses how to read the works of Prokopios and John Lydos in light of gender history, which is important. I have long suspected that the prominent role of women in Prokopios was used to contrast the behaviour of the men to "old fashioned" Roman morals, and Brubaker supports these ideas. I would take it further than she does in regard to the 'Anekdota', but that was not the goal of the article. No one intending to read Prokopios should skip Brubaker's article, despite how irrelevant its title makes it sound. Donner's article on the background to Islam may seem like the odd man out, but it actually fits of the volume quite well as he does an excellent job of demonstrating how Islam fits into the late sixth and early seventh centuries.
This is a fine set of articles by some of the most important scholars in the field supplemented by a generous selection of maps, plates, and tables. A few little criticisms of a few articles in not enough to warrant knocking off a star. An absolutely essential read for understanding Justinian and his era.